Pre-World War II China

1939-Shanghai-Cookie (age 2) Amah Paula (age 6) Doris (age 32)-we ride in rickshas to avoid floodwaters at Grosvenor House, our apartment building in the International Settlement copy

Cookie, Amah, Paula, and Mom ready for a rickshaw ride in Shanghai

 

Prior to World War II, we lived in the Far East where my adopted expatiate father worked for the Standard Oil. In the photo above, we’re about to take a rickshaw ride through the flooded streets of Shanghai—Cookie in Amah’s lap on the left, and me in my mother’s lap on the right. Rickshaws were fun, I thought back then, but I’ve recently learned more about rickshaw drivers, or pullers, in the April 19, 2017 Delancey Place blog states otherwise. It features a selection from The Search for Modern China, by Jonathan D. Spence. 

Everyday life was a struggle for survival for most Chinese in the 1930s. Few could afford to marry, and among those who did, many had to sell their children, or watch them slowly starve. The country was increasingly ready for a revolution.

“China’s hundreds of millions joined scores of their fellows at 4:00 a.m. or earlier, waiting in anxious groups with their tools to see if any work would come that day. Most such men died unnoticed after brief, miserable lives. Some of them ‘escaped’ to the factories or became human horses, pulling two-wheeled rickshaws through the crowded streets of China’s cities. These rickshaw men were constantly exploited by racketeers, and returned after each backbreaking day to grim tenements, where they slept in rows, packed side by side, in spaces just vacated by fellow pullers who had returned to the streets.”

Life was no better for poverty stricken country peasants. “Few of the wealthier farmers went to the expense of mechanizing farm work, even when machinery and fuel were available. Nor did they invest much in draft animals, since the wages paid to a hired laborer per day were the same as the cost of a day’s fodder for a single donkey. The man could be laid off when the need for him was over, but the donkey had to be fed the sheltered for the whole year.”

Such is often the fate of the world’s powerless.

Expatriate Career Training for China

Shanghai1920s- wiki commons

Shanghai 1920s – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The stepfather who adopted and raised me from the age of two, spent his career in the Far East before World War II. He described his 1915 hiring and training by the Standard Oil Co. of New York.

“An opportunity to work in the Orient presented itself. It was December 24, 1915. I had been told to report to 26 Broadway, New York, offices of the Standard Oil Company of New York, to enter a training class for service in the Orient. A group[ of forty-five men had been selected from three hundred applicants. Most were recent college graduates from different parts of the country. Many held degrees in engineering — civil, electrical, and mechanical. Supposedly these fields were crowded with little future. The opportunity to go to China at a salary of $2,000 a year, and sell kerosene oil for a period of three years, followed by a home leave of six months, seemed very attractive. The fact that we reported on the day before Christmas was of little concern; the chance to go to the Far East was not to be overlooked.

…each Monday, we noticed that some of the men were missing. At the end of the training period, eighteen out of the original forty-five remained. Two were assigned to Java [Indonesia] and the other sixteen to Shanghai, China. We considered ourselves lucky.”

I was a two-year-old when late in those expatriate years, my mother married “Dad” after Hans Pederson’s death. We joined Dad in Shanghai, Manila, and Honolulu. How my parents reveled in those privileged expatriate years until World War II brought them to a close.

 

World War II and The Shanghai American School

U.Mich Peony Garden

Mysterious Builder of Seattle Landmarks at the University of Michigan Peony Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Mike and I traveled  to the impressive University of Michigan in early May to join a reunion of the Shanghai American School (SAS) —  part of the conference, “China Between Two Worlds.”

Hans Pederson died when I was one month old. My mother remarried when I was two. We left Seattle, and so the mystery of the noted builder who was my father grew for the next 70 years. My new “Dad” took us to China where he was an agent for the Standard Oil Company.  As well as Seattle history, the “Mysterious Builder” describes my Far Eastern early childhood in Shanghai, Honolulu, and Manila, along with Dad’s attempts to do business there during the turmoil of the pre and post-war World War II years.

The Michigan conference described “China Between Two Worlds” partly through the memories and photographs of American expatriate families —the missionaries, doctors, and businessmen in China between 1927 and 1949; years that bridged the Chiang Kai Sheck and  Mao Tse Tung regimes withWorld War II in between.  We, the children of these families, had all lived in China. We had lived those photos. We had felt that sense of straddling two cultures.

Such freedom we had. Missionaries upcountry had put their children on the train for Shanghai to board at the Shanghai American School sometimes at the tender age of nine. My husband, a day student at seven, roamed freely around Shanghai with his older brother, jumping over sampans on the Whangpo River. I, however, a five-year old girl, stayed with my amah. Conscious of her bound feet, I never ran away from her, because she never could have caught me.

Most business families were evacuated from Shanghai as we were in 1939, and most expatriates as well by the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on  December 7, 1941. The Shanghai American School closed from 1941 to 1946. It was another story for the missionary families in smaller cities upcountry. Some of them were interred in Japanese Prison Camps.

Japanese cruelty towards the Chinese was legendary. Brutality, in fact, was a part of Japanese military training. But one or two people at our reunion had filtered out the cruelty and remembered basically happy childhoods in prison camp, even though they were always hungry.

European and American prisoners organized their camps into rotating teams with specific jobs. With plenty of teachers around, the children had good schooling. They fielded sports teams and put on plays. They always invited their captors to sit in the front row. A few western camps run by Japanese consular officials, were seemingly able to maintain discipline without excessive cruelty.

And so we learned, sometimes there is light within the darkness.

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